Send me Your FREE
Health & Nutrition Updates

Tips on ways to live longer, healthier and happier.
Enter your email below.

Articles October 2011 Issue

Four Keys to Reducing Your Risk of SCD (Sudden Cardiac Death)

Score another benefit of living right. In a new analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, women who adhered to all four key factors of a healthy lifestyle—eating right, not smoking, exercising regularly and avoiding overweight—were 92% less at risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) than those adhering to none.

Sudden cardiac death (defined as death occurring within one hour after symptom onset without evidence of circulatory collapse) accounts for more than half of all deaths from coronary heart disease, some 250,000-310,000 cases annually in the US. Although it typically strikes people already with underlying coronary heart disease, SCD is frequently the first manifestation of heart disease in its victims—especially women.

“Prevention efforts that can be applied across broader populations, such as healthy lifestyle practices, are crucial to prevent SCD, particularly among women,” noted Stephanie E. Chiuve, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and colleagues, who published their findings in JAMA.

The study followed 81,722 women, initially ages 30 to 55, for a span of 26 years, during which there were 321 cases of SCD. Participants completed lifestyle questionnaires every two to four years.

All four lifestyle factors the study analyzed were significantly and independently associated with a lower risk of SCD: not smoking; exercising 30 minutes a day or more; body mass index (BMI) less than 25; and following a healthy diet similar to the “Mediterranean diet” (high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish, with moderate alcohol intake).

Even following just one of those lifestyle factors may reduce a woman’s risk of SCD by 46% compared to none. As the number of lifestyle factors a woman adhered to increased, so did the risk reduction: 59% for two, 67% for three and 92% for all four.

Chiuve and colleagues concluded that 81% of the sudden cardiac deaths may be attributed to smoking, lack of activity, overweight or obesity, and poor diet. Even after women who had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease were excluded from the analysis, 79% of the SCD cases may be linked to lifestyle factors.

“Adherence to an overall healthy lifestyle was associated with a lower risk of SCD and may be an effective strategy for the prevention of SCD,” the researchers summarized. “Because SCD accounts for more than 50% of coronary heart disease mortality, widespread adoption of a healthy lifestyle in the population may make a substantial impact on reaching the American Heart Association’s 2020 Impact Goal of further lowering cardiovascular disease mortality.”

TO LEARN MORE: JAMA, July 6, 2011; abstract at

New to Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In